PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Tanner Roark made his final case for either the last spot in the Nationals rotation or the last spot in their bullpen today, allowing just one run in 5 2/3 innings in a 3-1 loss to the Mets.
Roark struck out five and walked one today, and will finish his spring with the following line: 13 2/3 IP, 11 H, 5 ER, 3 BB, 11 Ks.
With Roark’s spring complete, manager Matt Williams will get his final look at Taylor Jordan tomorrow, and then will decide which of the two right-handers will round out his rotation.
“I think he’s made a very good case,” Williams said of Roark. “We’ll get a good look at Taylor again. But Tanner certainly made a really strong case.”
Roark has said he’s tried all spring to avoid thinking about the competition that he’s in. As a guy who produced at a high level for the Nationals both in the rotation and in the bullpen last year, he can help Williams in a number of different roles. Now he has to wait and see which one he ends up in, or if he is sent back to Triple-A Syracuse to begin the season.
“I went out there and competed,” Roark said of his spring. “Got outs. Didn’t walk many guys. I did have leadoff walks, and those come back to bite you, and they did today. So other than that, I feel like I’ve done pretty well.”
Is any of the nervousness starting to creep in now as spring winds down?
“You know, it’s just the anticipation factor, I guess,” he said. “Just wanting to know. But it’s not up to me. It’s out of my hands. So it’s just going out there every time they give me the ball, go out there and compete.”
Another right-hander whose role for this season is uncertain is Aaron Barrett, who was the closer at Double-A Harrisburg last season and has had a dynamite camp this spring.
Barrett threw one pitch today and got an inning-ending double play ball in the eighth, and now has thrown 8 2/3 scoreless frames this spring, with seven strikeouts and no walks.
“Coming into camp, I was just looking forward to the opportunity,” Barrett said. “Trying to make the most of it. I think I put myself in a pretty good spot. Whatever happens, happens.”
In addition to Barrett, left-hander Xavier Cedeno worked a scoreless third of an inning today, and Ryan Mattheus struck out two of the three hitters he faced. Drew Storen, meanwhile, walked two and allowed a two-run homer to Curtis Granderson in his two-thirds of an inning of work.
Storen will pitch again tomorrow, which is why Williams came out to get him without letting him finish the seventh inning. The right-hander’s spring ERA now sits at 9.53, but he usually has shaky springs, and he told me before the game his arm feels great.
“Anytime a hitter gets in an advantageous count, that’s their advantage,” Williams said, when asked about Storen. “Regardless of who’s out there. That was just the case today. I’m not concerned.”
Williams won his first challenge of spring today, challenging a first-inning play in which Bryce Harper was called out trying to steal second base. The call was overturned after a review of about 90 seconds, and after the umpires put Harper back at second base, he scored later in the inning on a Ryan Zimmerman infield single.
“The ball beat him, but it was kind of in the dirt,” Williams said of the play where Harper was called out. “So anytime there’s a play in the infield, I understand the natural tendency is to come up (with the glove) before you come down. We thought, ‘He looked safe, so we’re going to go out there to see what it is.’
“I went out, talked to the umpire, looked back to the dugout. Randy (Knorr) gave me the, ‘Yeah, we think he’s safe (gesture),’ so that’s what we did.
“That’s the hardest one (to challenge), because the ball clearly beat him. But what happens with the infielder dictates a lot of whether he’s out or safe. So, split-second, naked eye, you could’ve made an argument either way. But understanding that he’s got to pick the ball up out of the dirt and come up before he goes down, you may have a shot there. I don’t know if we were absolutely sure, but we thought this was an opportunity to go take another look.”